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The Problem With Board Game Reviewers

The Job of a Board Game Reviewer and The Problem With Them

The Job of a Board Game Reviewer

Before discussing the problems and issues with board game reviewers, we should first discuss what it is they do and what their goal is, and we think we should at least be slightly knowledgeable on the topic.  First, a quote we try to live by:

We try to constantly keep this in our minds when reviewing games and something we think many others in this field seem to have forgotten!  The countless photos of giant shelves containing an obscene amount of games are evidence of this fact.

Whether these are shared by trusted or well-respected reviewers, or board game influencers who have the sole goal of getting you to buy whatever is currently new and hot, it doesn’t matter. These types of posts and pictures misrepresent what the average member of the community should strive for.

Lots of Board Games

To be completely transparent, that was a picture of one of our shelves of board games, but we have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours reviewing games.  We have found a love for reviewing board games and want to make it easier for others to find and choose ones they like, not buy every average game that pops onto the market!

More Isn’t Always Better

Even somebody like us who has tried to make board games into our second job still struggles to find the time to play them all.  To put a fairly average-sized collection into perspective, if you had 100 games, you would have to play a game every third night to play them all within a year.

With how busy most of our lives are we find it hard to believe that many are achieving that.  Sure, if money isn’t an issue and you like the “collecting” aspect, more power to you. We would probably argue though that the vast majority of people would prefer to play their personal top 25 board games 10 times each within the year as opposed to their top 100 games one time each.

As a board game reviewer, we believe it’s our goal to try and help others find their own top board games, the ones they fall in love with and the ones they want to play over and over again!

The Problems With Board Game Reviews

Now that we have a somewhat general idea of what a board game reviewer is and their purpose, we can go over some of the issues and problems currently seen by reviewers and their audiences.

A Fine Line Between Game Previews and Reviews

A lot of accounts or people in the industry you follow may not actually be board game reviewers and may focus on previewing games, and many of them toe that line so well that it is hard to tell what their main goal is.

All you have to do is add a p to “review” and you’ve entered an entirely different area of the board game marketing world.  Okay, not really, but board game previews are what add a lot of chaos and shall we say grayness to the marketing aspect of the hobby. 

With an almost 17 billion dollar market size, it’s no wonder there has been a huge surge in promotional efforts for board games.  The problem is a vast number of new releases rely on crowdfunding.  This means previews, cool graphics, and exciting ads are practically necessary to raise funds.

To “preview” a game ethically, at least in our eyes, the goal is to leave your opinions at the door and share a mostly factual view of said product, while also trying to get others excited about the game, since that is really why many get paid to create such content.

We’re not trying to argue that this is “wrong” or shouldn’t be done, it’s business, we get it. The issue is that the people who have participated in “paid previews” of board games are no longer able to review said games from an ethical standpoint.

This compounds into multiple problems, especially when most marketing dollars are going towards board game influencers, and those who “preview” games in a way that sells the most copies.

  • Consumers are putting money toward products that are often built on theory instead of reality.  Board game previewers are tpically not evaluating the game or being critical of it, they are there to sell it to you and often getting paid to do so.  
  • Fewer people are inclined to review board games and give their honest opinion because there’s more money in previews and if they leave honest or bad reviews, bridges are easily burned, or they ethically can’t because they previewed the game instead.  

Board Game Reviewers are Afraid to be Critical

Board Game Reviewers Rate Every Game The Same

No matter how established or reputable a site or reviewer is, there’s no denying many of them seem to be afraid to be critical of board games and give pretty average ratings to almost all titles.  No matter how you look at it, this is bad for you, the consumer.

Whether they want to ensure their relationships with companies and publishers remain intact, want to continue receiving free “review copies” or want to drive more affiliate clicks, ads, or sales, there’s no denying this has become a serious problem.  

As long as this type of rating behavior remains the norm, it’s just going to get harder to determine which board games are actually good, and which are held up by the fear of financial or partnership losses.

Maybe it is a little easier for us to give lower ratings at A Pair of Meeples since we’re mostly evaluating games at two players, so it does feel a little less mean when we give a game a 3 out of 10, but still, we think others need to follow suit and rate games more honestly and give scores that truly reflect their feelings.  

Do Publishers Give Reasons to Be Afraid?

Are board game reviewers unjustified in their fear of giving poor ratings?  Who’s to say, but we’re sure there is anecdotal evidence and stories about “review copies” drying up or ignored emails after a negative review is posted.

Most publishers will likely try to give their games to those who will promote them in a positive light as is, resulting in a lot of bias right from the get-go.  Since, the majority will likely rate the game well or at least okay, those few who may not enjoy the game are even less likely to do so as they don’t want to be the odd man out.

Some publishers such as Stonemaier Games have stated that they don’t read reviews as they want reviewers to say whatever they wish.  This is the type of message that can help lead to better and more honest content, but even with a shift towards this type of culture and relationship, it will still take a long time for behaviors to change as a result.

How Can These Problems Be Fixed

Well, these are issues we don’t think are going to go away entirely for quite some time, especially as long as Kickstarter and crowdfunding remain so prominent in the industry, there is just too much money on the line.

We can hope that more and more reviewers will pour more effort into their passion projects and give honest and critical reviews out of pure love for the hobby, but with the amount of time it takes to create a thorough and valuable review that’s rather unlikely.  In reality, we most likely will see a decline in this type of content.

The solution really relies on you, the reader of board game reviews.  If you made it here, anywhere on our site, or other similar ones you must find some value in them.  If you want content to be more useful and honest, it’s your support that allows that content to continue existing.

It’s up to you to find the people and groups you think provide quality information and help them continue to do so, that’s the only way to combat “previews” and distorted and biased reviews. Whether you subscribe to their email list, share their stuff, or actually purchase something from them or through a link on their site, all of those things help those creators to continue doing what they do.

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